Tweaked Google Street View lets users climb El Capitan without leaving their chair

In an undated handout photo, climbers on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park take a panorama of the 3,000-foot ascent for Google Street View. In the same way that Street View allows web users to lurch down a city block one click at a time, pausing to look in all directions, viewers can now pull themselves up El Capitan and view panoramas at more than 20 other spots across the broad face of El Capitan. (Google via The New York Times)


In January, Santa Rosa native Kevin Jorgeson teamed with rock-climbing partner Tommy Caldwell of Colorado to free-climb the Dawn Wall, a route up the face of Yosemite’s El Capitan that had never before been solved without relying on ropes and pulleys to ascend.

Now Caldwell, in conjunction with renowned climbers Lynn Hill and Alex Honnold, has helped create a dizzying piece of technology that allows viewers to come as close as possible to experiencing the exhilaration of El Cap without spending a week perched on the rock.

Caldwell, Hill and Honnold climbed the monolith with camera equipment, and Google turned their footage into what the company is billing the first-ever vertical application of its Street View imaging.

“I spent some of my rest days during my January climb of the Dawn Wall testing out the Street View technology the Google team had sent me that month,” Caldwell wrote in a blog on Google’s website. “El Cap is an intimidating environment for experimentation, but years of setting ropes proved pretty helpful in figuring out how to get the equipment rigged and ready to collect Street View.”

On the site, viewers can manipulate 360-degree images of each of the three climbers strapped onto well-known spots on El Capitan, as well as a time-lapse look at Honnold’s ascent of a route called The Nose.

“Climbing is all about flirting with the impossible and pushing the boundaries of what you think you can be done,” Caldwell wrote. “Capturing Street View imagery 3,000 feet up El Capitan proved to be an extension of that, especially when you take a camera meant for the inside of a restaurant and mount it thousands of feet up the world’s most iconic rock wall.”

Hill became the first person to free-climb The Nose in 1973. Honnold set a speed record on the route when he climbed The Nose in 2 hours, 23 minutes. Caldwell’s and Jorgeson’s Dawn Wall ascent became the most-watched climb in history.

Google will supplement its Yosemite education drive by bringing students to the park through the NatureBridge program, and by offering a virtual-reality field trip via Google Expeditions.

You can see the images here: